Months ago, when Blake Griffin agreed he was going to give up $ 13.3 million to get out of his contract with the Detroit Pistons, he had come to terms with the fact that he was no longer a franchise player of body or mind.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be an active player in the spirit anymore.
He felt he had something left to give, maybe a few years if he’s lucky, which he hasn’t been very often if we’re being honest. For that price, both in dollars and in ego, what he wanted was happiness and replay basketball in a meaningful way.
Griffin played a conference semifinal game on Saturday for the first time in six years. It seemed even longer, as these days as frontman of the Lob City Clippers feel like they only exist in YouTube highlights.
He played like he wanted, throwing his body around and playing with the advantage the Brooklyn Nets will need to beat the Milwaukee Bucks four times. Griffin’s 18 points, 14 rebounds and critical plays fueled the Nets against the Bucks 115-107. His presence was especially needed after Brooklyn lost James Harden to a hamstring injury just 43 seconds into the game.
At the end of the fourth quarter with the game in hand, the crowd of 15,750 at New York’s Barclays Center gave Griffin a standing ovation after committing a foul and retiring to the bench. It had been a while since he had felt something like this too.
âFor two years I haven’t heard a lot of positivity and probably rightly so,â Griffin said. “It’s pretty crazy how this happened, so I’m just grateful for this chance and this opportunity.”
The last time Griffin was at this point, he was possibly at the peak of his game in 2015, at age 25 with five straight All-Star appearances and his health intact. He had finished third in the MVP vote the previous season and in the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets he was a sheer force, averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. He was in this remarkable place, where his physical gifts mingled with the skills he had honed.
In that first game, six years later, Griffin relied primarily on the skills he had learned. His physical gifts are largely diminished, but he has become a better shooter, as he has shown by hitting four 3s as the Bucks gave him space. And his role on the team took him to fight in the trenches, which he did endlessly for 35 minutes.
“It’s nice to see him work and preserve and have an opportunity,” said Nets coach Steve Nash. “He was obviously great tonight and his energy and his fight were exceptional.”
One thorny reality about Griffin, say those around him for the past five years, is that he wasn’t a very good teammate at times. That wasn’t the only reason the Clippers traded him – his injury history and worrying contacts were higher on the roster – but it was one of them. The headline came when he hit the Clippers’ equipment manager and broke his hand, but below the surface there were more incidents with teammates and coaches.
Part of the mission when he joined Brooklyn was to restore the respect of his teammates. With characters like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden, the only possibility for him was for him to play a role and show leadership not only by accepting it, but by excelling at it.
During his first few weeks with the team, it wasn’t the future Hall of Fame he shared the dressing room with that inspired Griffin. It was his teammate Bruce Brown, 24, a guy who entered the league as a goalie and ended up playing center at times, as he looked for a role to slip into and support the squad.
That’s what Griffin did in Game 1, a far cry from the 2015 superstar or even the 2019 All-Star. But his contributions were exactly what the Nets needed in this series, where they are passed in the middle and will be consistently. attacked. Milwaukee still scored 72 points in the paint, the third highest in the playoffs in 25 years.
Griffin knows there are more challenges ahead, especially with the uncertainty of Harden’s hamstring injury, but he also knows where he stands. Being there so late in the season and so late in his career put him in a place he wanted for so long. In a way, maybe he wasn’t expecting it.
âBeing a part of something bigger than yourself takes priority,â Griffin said. “You do whatever it takes.”